CIO Spotlight: Jen Felch, Dell Technologies

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? "I would have spoken up a more loudly and a more frequently."

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What was your first job? My first job out of college was working as a software developer working on seismic interpretation systems.

Did you always want to work in IT? Working in IT wasn't part of my early career aspirations. It was only when I realised that being in IT would allow me to have a significant influence in automating and simplifying processes that I decided to pursue this path. Now, I am thrilled to have moved to IT and know that we have a significant responsibility in the simplification of processes.

What was your education? Did you hold any certifications? What are they? My education includes both bachelor's and master's degrees in Mechanical Engineering from MIT. After working for a few years, I returned to the Leaders for Global Operations program at MIT, where I also earned master's degrees in Computer Science and Management.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. My career path began in development and application engineering, and then progressed to product management. Early on, I worked for several fast-growing software companies before I moved to Dell. Over the last 15 years here, I have taken on a variety of different roles across the business, including manufacturing, business transformation and IT. While some could say that all these different roles could be considered a chain of detours, I think they have all led me to this role where it can all come together: development, product management, operations, and cross-functional transformations.  I also like to think I still have that start-up attitude that enables me to find ways to get things done in a big company.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Our biggest initiatives are focused on expanding our hybrid cloud capabilities, modernising our applications to be cloud-native, and creating compelling user experiences. In combination, these will help us improve performance and availability in a secure manner, as well as reduce our costs and time to change.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Our top priorities as an IT organisation are aligned with our overall investment goals for the coming year, which focus on IT operational excellence and building capabilities for the company that will both streamline our operations and improve how we engage our customers.

We work closely with the business teams to understand the objectives and collaborate on making it easy for customers to do business with us, for team members to be productive, and to introduce new and compelling offers.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? The CIO role at every company has evolved greatly over the past decade as the technology needs of companies, customers and employees have evolved. The role has come a long way from where it was when some CIO roles were focused on infrastructure operations or rolling out big packaged applications. Today, IT is fundamental to every business process at the company.

That being said, CIO roles are different at each company. Some of the areas that we see companies asking their CIOs to lead are the broader digital transformation and often data analytics. As technology and automation experts, we often see what's possible and have all learned to invest for the long term while delivering near term value. On data analytics, there is certainly value in having it centralised, but there is enormous value in the subject matter expertise that business process owners bring that then enable them to make the right decisions and take actions.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? Our digital transformation looks at all of these: customer experience, revenue enablement and operational efficiency. In terms of balance, we look at these areas to find the opportunities that will push us as far along as possible across as many of these dimensions as possible, without a negative impact to the others. There are always a few "triple lindy" opportunities, where we can make progress across all three. And we constantly monitor our progress against all three.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Dell Technologies' digital business has a rich history of continued innovation when it comes to developing and expanding the IT capabilities we offer. That being said, the digital landscape continues to change, and we always have a backlog of improvements and opportunities.

Each of our IT portfolios have KPIs that map to the business goals. For example, we share metrics on the seamless flow of orders - assessing any delay as they go from placement to the time the order is shipped and invoiced. Our customer experience is measured through CSAT and through pulse surveys to gauge our users' responses from the IT solutions we are offering both to customer directly and to our internal users.  What we've been able to do in many areas is have shared KPIs on the business outcomes and can measure the impact of the IT changes that we're making together.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? At Dell Technologies, we have a culture code that we all work and lead by. It highly values our relationships with customers, collaboration, innovation, integrity and results. A good culture fit for my organisation includes someone who has a growth mindset and is eager and willing to invest in learning. I also value team members who can strike the right balance of being collaborative and sharing great ideas with the ability to deliver results. Within IT, this is especially important as things often change quickly. To cultivate this mindset, we have to live and practice it at all levels of the organisation.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? We all expect to spend time finding great developers and engineering leaders. However, there are a couple of new roles to IT that are also not easy to find. One of the two roles that are most difficult to fill at scale is product manager. A good product manager is able to marry their business acumen with technology outcomes - balancing the priorities of both with limited resources. Often, we're finding that some of our strongest product managers are coming from our engineering organisation. The second is designer - it is difficult to find people to observe and then ably translate the desired customer or employee experience into flexible, scalable processes design.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Some of the best advice I received, which can apply to many life situations, is that there is no "one-time interaction". Each person you come into contact with could have an impact on you in the future, whether that be a team mate, a manager, an investor, the person next to you on the plane, the parent of a child's friend, the driver in the car next to you, etc.  

The other is that piece of advice that I find myself sharing with others is that you're always measured by your current role when trying to move to the next. You need to do it well and find a way to make it interesting (if it isn't already). Create the proof that you're ready for the next experience, not just talking about what you could do, but by demonstrating what you are doing and the value you're creating. 

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Yes, I have a succession plan. I think it's really important for today's IT leaders to have a wide variety of different experiences that will enable them to lead the broader organisation. The challenge is to manage rotations so high-performers, who have likely become experts and extremely valuable in their area, can continue to learn and build both depth and breadth across IT. Today's CIO's have a broad range of responsibilities and building a strong succession pipeline means taking some risk by managing rotations and being comfortable with a very strong team. (Remember: succession means that they are training for your job.) 

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? My advice would be to let your technical skills shine, be willing to both listen and lead, and build a reputation of delivering what you say you will.  

You may also want to cultivate relationships with mentors as it opens up a channel for direct feedback on performance and new opportunities to succeed. Mentorship doesn't necessarily have to be a formal program, you usually don't have to look far to find someone to help you refine and enhance your skills. Oftentimes, all you need to do is ask.

What has been your greatest career achievement? The greatest achievements and what I'll remember are the people that I've worked with and what we've been able to do together. I see teams that build up their confidence to try new things and take some risk, and they often do great things. I'm so impressed with what people can do in the right environment. My job is to create that environment here at Dell.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would have spoken up a more loudly and a more frequently.

What are you reading now? Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt.

Most people don't know that I… grew up in a farming town of 2,500 people.

In my spare time, I like to…be outdoors with my family, biking, hiking, rowing, etc.

Ask me to do anything but… the dishes.

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